Who's Robbing City Museums?

May 11, 1994

Donald P. Hutchinson, who served as Baltimore County executive during the '70s and now runs the Greater Baltimore Committee, is trying to jump-start a dialogue on regionalism. The Baltimore area cannot thrive without more cross-pollination between city and suburb, especially in the areas of education and new housing.

We hope he succeeds in getting this issue on the front-burner: The need for regional cooperation has too long been ignored by local leaders. Unfortunately, the outlook for greater cooperation does not bode well, judging by the continued disparity of cultural support between the city and suburbs.

Two years ago, suburban leaders looked in the mirror at how they were funding the arts -- and were embarrassed. Baltimore City was contributing $18 per resident to the region's main attractions, such as the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore Museum HTC of Art and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The five metro counties were spending less than $2 a head. The suburbs vowed to close that gap, but a changing of the guard in the next election and a recession undid that promise. Now, the recession's over, and county officials crow that they've restored the cuts. But that's not so.

In fiscal year 1991, Anne Arundel was contributing $250,000 to the city-based, regional attractions; for fiscal '95, it has proposed $150,000.

In Baltimore County, it was $1.3 million in 1991, $912,000 is proposed for '95; Carroll County is giving $5,000, half of what it contributed in '91; Howard gave $150,000 in '91, and is down to $95,000 now; Harford has basically remained at the level it was, but that's nothing to boast about since that county has been most dismal of all, contributing about 40 cents a head toward culture, compared to the city's $18. (The city's proposed contribution may dip a little next year, but it was way ahead of its neighbors.)

Suburban governments are just struggling back from a recession. Yet the implication of their proposed budgets is that all else will be restored before culture. Even though the counties pitch Baltimore's amenities to entice new business, and even though county resident visits are up at many of these facilities, county leaders don't feel a burden to correct a situation they've admitted is unjust.

County leaders have cowered to the "us-firsters," constituents who wrongly believe dollars for city museums isn't money spent "at home." In fact, we won't begin to confront this or more complex problems until we view this whole region as "home."

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